Governor Jerry Brown said he will unveil plans today to divert abundant Northern California water to thirsty Southern California for 25 million people and the farms that grow half of the U.S.’s fresh produce.
The project would siphon water from the Sacramento River, 10 miles south of the state capital, through two 40-mile-long tunnels to existing pumps and aqueducts that supply cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego, and irrigate 3 million acres.
The plan reopens a long-simmering dispute between northern Californians and those in the more populous south, much of which is semidesert. Voters in 1982 rejected a ballot measure that would have authorized a similar plan after a campaign that pitted northerners against Southland residents.
Water user fees would pay for the tunnels, while money from a $11 billion water-bond measure voters will consider in 2014 would finance restoration of 100,000 acres of floodplain and tidal marsh habitat.
The diversion of water to Los Angeles has remained a contentious dispute in the most populous U.S. state since the turn of the last century, when the city bought up large tracts and then built miles of aqueducts to drain lakes in the Owens Valley and nearby mountains that had fed water to farms.
Filmmaker Roman Polanski’s 1974 movie “Chinatown,” starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, takes place in Los Angeles during that California water-war era.
The restoration efforts are intended to ease pressure on the ecologically sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, located at the confluence of two rivers that feed into San Francisco Bay, where native plants and fish have suffered.
That water ballot measure had been slated for this year, but Democrats and Brown delayed it, in part because of worries that too many high-cost measures might jeopardize Brown’s proposed tax increase also on the ballot.